I do some SINGING (aka, I Heard My Neighbour Weep)

July 31, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Posted in music | 2 Comments
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I sing constantly. In the shower, at the bus stop, on my bike, at my desk. (Yes,  I’m aware that this is intensely irritating. I genuinely don’t know I’m doing it half the time.) I’ve passed the habit on to my kids, who hum ‘Thunderbirds’ while building Lego spacecraft and ‘Happy’ while digging up the things I’ve just planted.

But for all that, I’ve never liked my voice. I can’t trust it to hit a note precisely, to hold on without wobbling. In the spirit of Giving Stuff A Go, I find myself looking out of a window in Colden, with a teacher at the piano, trying to stop shaking long enough to get a sound out. She asks me what I want to sing: my list includes Dowland, Velvet Underground, Gluck and Dagmar Krause. So far, so midlife crisis.

Of course, I’d overlooked that voice exploration is bound to be more personal than, say, having my ‘cello bowing technique critiqued. Is it my voice I don’t trust, or myself? What’s with the confidence issues, anyway? Tell me about your childhood…


Nothing to do with me

I decide, in typical fashion, to ignore all the rattling of subconscious cages and just practise. Practising is the BOMB. Proper, give-it-some-welly singing turns out to be a mad, zen-like, out-of-body experience. I gaze out at the neighbour’s hedge, doing my warmups. Mee-mah-mee-mah-meeeeeee*. Within a few steps up the scale I’m in the ZONE. The privet blurs. The clouds slow. Half an hour passes. I don’t notice the window cleaner arriving (though he compliments me when he knocks for his cash, possibly fearful I might break something with a high F).

It’s like being taken over by some malevolent force. I tune back in suddenly and think, blimey. Am I making that noise? It’s not that it’s beautiful; there’s just such a LOT of it. Down at the bottom of my range, my sternum thrums and my teeth rattle. Up at the top, I double-check my feet are still on the ground.

Pilates mat class setup

Scenes that some readers may find disturbing

I never thought I’d learn to meditate. Anything where I have to think about my breathing is guaranteed to freak me RIGHT out. I’ve wept in Tai Chi, in Pilates, even in the lying-on-the-floor bit of aerobics classes (though that may have been the teacher putting on I’m Not In Love, come to think of it). But this is surprisingly close. At the end, my ears hum and my eyes won’t focus. I float about for an hour or two, saying things like ‘Hey, that’s just the way it is,’ and ‘Hmm? Cup of tea? That would be AWESOME.’

I’m learning to breathe properly, and control the breath. To understand what tension feels like, and realise that I can drop it. I’m starting to feel in charge of the sound that comes out of my mouth, which is bizarre and brilliant. I can’t escape thinking about how this relates to, well, everything. Normally, I put my fingers in my ears and squinch my eyes shut when Life throws me Lessons, but here they’re so BLINDINGLY obvious, even an idiot in full denial like me can’t fail to be whacked around the head by them.

The Life Lessons of Singing

1. Commit. Like cyclocross remounts, if you believe, you might do it. But if you don’t, you definitely won’t.

2. Relax. To quote my teacher, ‘Don’t worry about sounding nice; just get the sound out.’ Realise what tension and ‘holding back’ feel like, and just decide to let them go.

3. Do your thing. Sing in front of people. It sounds fine. (And if it doesn’t, they mostly won’t care. As my granny said to my Dad, anxiously primping in front of the mirror, ‘Who’s going to look at you, dear?’)

4. Try to love a challenge. Quoting my teacher again, ‘Enjoy the high notes.’

5. Give yourself the occasional gold star. Note progress. Be pleased with yourself.

singing selfie

The author, thrilled

6. Feel thrilled by what you can do. I sound better if I sing at the top of my range or right at the bottom, and avoid the octave or so in the middle**. I took the plunge and pitched the Dowland up a tone, meaning I hit a high G*** at the end. It feels like the edge of the world. The utter KICK of going for it and getting it. I did a bit of jumping around the kitchen. (Then I did it a few more times, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.)

Naturally, I am failing comprehensively to transfer any of these insights into the rest of life. But, you know. Baby steps. I’ll keep you posted.


* Shutting the door on the boyf, who’s asking me why I’m singing ‘mummy, mummy’, and giggling.

** This is officially weird, by the way

*** It’s high for me, OK? I’m basically some kind of freak tenor-countertenor hybrid.

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